Why Visibility Matters

Let’s talk about the red Human Rights Campaign logo that is making headlines.

This thing, that’s all over your Facebook newsfeed

I broke a personal rule yesterday: I responded in anger to an ignorant post on Facebook.

The post was from a high school acquaintance, and it said:

“I wonder how many people on facebook are against marriage equality, but don’t feel the need to post or share a picture about it. The red equal sign is stupid and annoying, and I’m sick of it.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, opinion sharing on Facebook is certainly annoying at best.  Almost as annoying as all of those statuses where people share their opinions on how annoying sharing opinions on Facebook is.

Here’s the thing with gay rights though: it is not about red vs. blue or which pop star is the best or even who used the latest meme incorrectly.  No, rather,

When one group is the oppressor and another group is the oppressed, we’re not dealing with a difference of opinion.  We’re dealing with a system of discrimination.

Which is what I said, only not as kindly.

“Not that we’ve talked in years, but I, and I’m willing to bet a lot of other people, don’t give a fuck about how you feel about seeing views other than yours. And before you call me hypocritical for going off on your view, let’s get one thing straight: your view does not just differ from my view. Your view oppresses my life.

Do you live in a society where you can’t visit your significant other on their death bed, where you can get fired for explaining who a picture on your desk is, or where people daily get beaten to a bloody pulp for being like you?

I didn’t think so. A lot of red might annoy you, but so many of us can’t even start to care — we’re too busy writing you off for ignorance and discrimination. Plain and simple.”

Granted, when I joined in, just over twenty people had already commented (pretty evenly split between for, against, and random jokes), the best of which was the very first, sarcastic comment:

“Civil rights are overrated”

So I didn’t need to get involved.  And my general rule is not to touch such things — deep breath, hands off.  Because I do really and truly believe that quick words born in anger are not the solution.  We’re fighting for love, and the best way to do that is with love.  I really value the times when you can sit down with somebody, and have a full-fledged, two-sided conversation, speaking from your heart and hopefully to theirs.

But sometimes, when the next guy to post after you goes on about how homosexuals have the same rights he has because he can’t marry a man either, you just feel compelled to say,

“Must be great to be a straight white Christian male! You guys have all the answers, and they just seem to come to you without ever having to think at all!”

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about when we’re obligated to speak up.  I often find myself resistant to putting myself out there, even when I know I’m standing up for the humanity in us all.  My first thought is too often, “It’s not my problem, let it go” or “do I have to?” even when it really is my problem and directly impacts my life — as a gay individual, if nothing else!  Fortunately, this second thought is never far behind, because it is so, so important that we don’t let our doubts and misgivings and other obligations keep us from knowing and doing what’s right.

That’s a funny thought, that maybe changing my profile picture to a red HRC logo to show my support for marriage equality might be exactly “what’s right,”  when actually speaking up with the words that come to my head (too often, “Wow, you’re a moron!”) is clearly not right.  But it highlights what I’ve ultimately come to realize:

I feel compelled to scream constantly, with every power I have, because it is so hard to be heard, not just over the hate, but over the silence.  Silence means nothing changes; silence means accepting a place as a second-class citizen, without deserving as much, like and amongst so many others.  I have to put myself forward and keeping hollering and pushing what I know to be right, because my own silence feeds my own demise.  Just like yours does.

But my figurative screaming is just as ineffective towards real change as literal screaming so often is.  So what to do?

The only answer I’ve got to this is Stand Up.  Scream with your actions — know when to speak, and know what silence means.  Take time for tough conversations.  Volunteer.  Give what you have, whether that’s time, money, smiles, or just your profile picture for a week.

Yesterday I broke my rule, and as the rule states, with angry words in a poor forum, nothing changed.  Except my fury level and the renewal of my conviction to keep having the tough conversations, volunteering where I can, and changing my profile picture whenever it feels right, no matter who it offends.  If I could have one more word on the worthless spat I’m leaving behind though, it would be:

Dear Moron,

Me and all these other people with the red pictures?  We’re glad it annoys you.  We’ve done it precisely because it annoys you, and what an awful thing, to hate love.  We’re standing up for something we know to be right, in what was a small way but has suddenly turned massive, because so many of us have chosen to stand.  How could I possibly be sorry you’re irritated by so many people taking just a few seconds to say they recognize the humanity in all of us?  And you know what?  When we stand, we’re looking down on you.

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